A Brain. A Heart. The Nerve
People look down on Meinhardt Raabe, literally and figuratively, every day. After realizing he was a little person, his parents abandoned him. Fortunately, he was taken in by his loving grandmother, but the early rejection makes it difficult for him to trust others. He creates a thick emotional barrier that makes it hard for him to accept love and friendship when it is offered.
The novel begins with young adult Meinhardt in Germany. Considered inferior by the Nazis because of his height, he is in constant fear of what they might do to him. Unable to tolerate the discrimination any longer, he is forced to flee his homeland and leave his grandmother behind. He ends up in the United States, and after some time as a street performer in New York, he hears of a job for people just like him. Hollywood is looking for actors to portray Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. Hardworking and ambitious, he lands a coveted speaking role as the coroner. This should be the beginning of a promising acting career, but there isn’t much call for actors Meinhardt’s size. He isn’t too bothered, though, because what he is passionate about is fashion, and he dreams of opening a clothing store. The novel follows Meinhardt’s career path, his relationship struggles, and his reconciliation with his past.
Epstein crafts her characters with great sensitivity, and the events of Meinhardt’s life feel very realistic. I was surprised to read in the author’s acknowledgments that the characters and story were almost entirely her inventions. Meinhardt Raabe was a little person who played the coroner in The Wizard of Oz, but the real-life Meinhardt and the fictional one are altogether different. Epstein’s ability to create such a believable story demonstrates her skill as a novelist. Highly recommended.